September 24, 2003

Looking for a know-it-all Jesus


Detail of a woodcut by Gustav Doré ca. 1865.
(For more artwork inspired by this passage, click here.)
The woman said, "I don't know about all that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we'll get the whole story."

"I am he," said Jesus. "You don't have to wait any longer or look any further."

...John 4:25-26, The Message
The NIV translates the Samaritan woman's statement like this: "When Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us." It struck me today that this isn't necessarily a true statement, at least not in the way she probably meant it.

The Samaritans were expecting a "teaching Messiah" who would clear up all the issues surrounding their form of worship and how it differed from the Jews'...and probably one who would vindicate their tradition as being superior to that of their Hebrew half-brothers. Jesus' non-answer corrected the woman's erroneous expectations. He certainly could have explained it all to her, right then and there...but I wonder if she would have stayed around to listen? I get the impression that she already knew exactly what she believed, that she wasn't in a mood to entertain serious spiritual discussion, and that she probably didn't really care much about the finer points of doctrine anyway!

Instead, Jesus simply reveals himself to her. It's significant to note that she's the first person to whom Jesus publicly reveals his Christhood. In this passage I hear Jesus saying, "You don't need to know all the answers; you just need to know me."

I've prided myself (an intentional choice of words) on my skills as a teacher. But I think many of the people in my sphere of influence don't really need or want a lesson from me. If Jesus wasn't there to explain everything, why should I imagine that I am? There's a time and place for offering detailed explainations (see, for example, Luke 24:13-32, especially 25-27), but I need to use some discernment as to when and where. I can't reveal Jesus to people, but I can do what this Samaritan sister did: "Come see a man who...knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?" So many people just need to be introduced to Jesus.

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